Thursday, March 31, 2005

Ally

Although the sale of 24 F16's to Pakistan dominated the news, Tom Donnelly of the Weekly Standard believes that the State Department briefing last Friday is much more significant than the sale of a few fighter planes.

From the briefing:
The first Bush Administration did a lot to spotlight the significance of the relationship to India, building on some work that had been done in the Clinton Administration. And that culminated in some things like, in 2004, the announcement of the next steps and strategic partnership, export controls, high-tech cooperation. This year the Administration made a judgment that the next steps and strategic partnership, though very important, wasn't broad enough to really encompass the kind of things we needed to do to take this relationship where it needed to go, and so the President and the Secretary developed the outline for a decisively broader strategic relationship.

Secretary Rice presented that outline last week to Prime Minister Singh. Its goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century. We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement.
This sounds like the F16's were a sop to keep the Pakistanis happy while the US was courting their big neighbor/rival.

Donnelly claims that the a "U.S.-India strategic partnership, if fully developed, would be the single most important step toward an alliance capable of meeting the 21st century's principal challenges: radical Islam and rising China".

Well, momentous stuff. If this came to pass, then India would become the US's most important ally. Not Britain. Not the EU. Not Canada. Not Japan.

Today's Christian Science Monitor describes it as a bold, but not risk-free move.

'Profit before People'

"Profit before people" is the verdict of Bishop Ray Field on the Bank of Ireland's decision to cut 2,100 jobs. Does that mean that there are no people who are shareholders of the bank? Are there no people who have pensions invested in the bank's shares? Are there no people who are customers of the bank?

What the Bishop really means is that the claims of the people who work for the bank are greater than those who own or are customers of the bank. That just doesn't sound as good, though, does it?

Now, don't get me wrong. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who loses their job. I know that anyone who has worked for the bank for a long time will find it hard to get a new job. It's horrendous for anyone who ends up in this situation and I'd be quite happy to pray for such people if the Bishop asked me to.

But, the Bishop is doing more than that. He's indirectly prescribing what actions the bank should take. This attitude - protect jobs at all costs - increases costs on the consumer and shareholder and kills innovation.

That attitude was a big part of the reason the Irish economy was so dire until the late 1980s. It's a big factor in the economic problems in France & Germany today.

Ireland has a small, open economy, which means it's a competitive place to do business. Competition demands innovation and strict cost control. Competition in banking has been slower coming (banking is essentially a licensed cartel), but it now seems to be heading our way.

This move by the Bank of Ireland is (I hope) an indication that the grossly expensive costs of banking here are about to come down. That will benefit consumers (even the poor, Your Grace) and help small Irish businesses compete, which should mean more jobs (even for the poor, Your Grace).

Road bowling

Yesterday's Washington Post has a long article on the growth of Irish road bowling in the US. Most of the article is about competition in West Virginia, but the writer notes that the game is already popular in Boston and New York.

Road bowling is a game (sport?) that I've always wanted to try.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dumb and Dumber

Incredible. It's bad enough to have the teachers' unions complaining about ratemyteachers.ie, but now the Minister for Education has joined the unions in stupidity.
Mary Hanafin said that when teachers rate their pupils' performance it is done in private.

She said it is entirely inappropriate that teachers' performances should be rated on a website in such a public way.
Is she kidding me? How about a ratemygovernmentministers.ie? I have a few things to say about the current Minister for Education. She'd get a big fat :-( from me.

She should be fired right now. It's nonsense like this that convinces me that we don't need a Department of Education or a Minister for Education.

Hey Mary Hanafin, what about the bathroom in the Bray DART station? I saw some disparaging remarks about a teacher at a local school written on a wall near the urinals once. That was public.

Here we have big labor and big government competing with one another to see who's the dumbest. It's only ironic because they're both supposed to be interested in the education that our children receive.

School on Holy Days

The Bishops have decided to allow Catholic schools to open on Holy Days if they wish. I think it's a sensible decision.

I don't know why any Catholic school should be so keen to be open on a Holy Day, but I presume that Mass will be a feature of the school day. I think that this is actually better for faith-building than simply having a day off.

However, if Mass is not part of the school day on Holy Days, then my kids will be missing an hour or so of school on those days.

Ireland beats Israel handily

No, they didn't replay last Saturday's game. That's still 1-1. Today's Ha'aretz has a column comparing Israel with Ireland in terms of economics. Fourteen years ago they were level, but today Ireland is way ahead. Today "a draw with Ireland in soccer is one of the few comforts we have", says columnist Guy Rolnik.

U2's tour

The New York Times liked U2's world tour opener.
This was an intensely satisfying performance by a band that has figured out what it does best and seems content to do it. Some bands get swallowed up by big arenas, but U2 was built for them: the Edge's echoey guitar lines are only improved when they bounce off concrete walls, and Bono's lyrics are best when they're delivered by tens of thousands of fans.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Don't do it, David

David Brooks is contemplating changing his baseball allegiance from the Mets to the new Washington Nationals. He's making a big mistake.

Your baseball team is not a casual romance. It's part of you. A man and his team are like a married couple. Divorce is always messy.

David enjoy baseball with the Nationals, but you'll never be able to feel the same passion for this team that you feel for the Mets.

One of my favorite t.v. lines of all time was one I picked up from a British sit-com, Man About the House, which used to be on Channel 9 in NY. One of the two women was asking the guy why, seeing as he had moved from Southampton to London he didn't root for one of the London clubs. His response was great: "Just because a man changes his address doesn't mean he has to change his religion".

Painted eggs

Chris, writing about Easter, mentions that a Polish co-worker is fascinated by the big Chocolate eggs that are part of Ireland's Easter tradition. He's used to painting hard-boiled eggs.
Polish pal, you're on the edge of Europe now. Practically in the arms of America. Why have a hard boiled egg when you can eat chocolate!
Actually, Chris, we used to paint our eggs too. The Chocolate eggs were just as much a fascination for me as they are for your Polish colleague. We had chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.

So Chris, you can't invite him to change his traditions simply because he's "practically in the arms of America" because if he were actually in America he'd have his painted, hard-boiled eggs.

Ratemyteachers

Sometimes I just wonder about the teachers' unions. They're up in arms - again - about ratemyteachers.ie. The unions are "seeking legal advice" as to what they can do about this web site.

Teachers with one year, full-time service are untouchable. They can't be fired, nobody reviews how they do their jobs, and promotions, etc. are essentially made on the basis of seniority. This is the first little ray of light that has been allowed to shine on the work of individual teachers.

What I find really odd is that for the most part the comments at ratemyteachers.ie are positive. All those teachers who make a big effort, who are committed to teaching our children should be heartened by this development. For the first time they're not being lumped in with the lazy, contemptuous minority who hate their jobs and make no effort to educate those who sit in front of them.

The unions' complaints are so asinine that they have me agreeing with Oisin O'Reilly, vice-president of the Union of Secondary Students. And, believe me when I tell you that I have a long history of never agreeing with student leaders.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Irish signs

From today road-side signs in the Gaeltacht will only display the Irish language version of the placenames. I honestly don't think this is a huge issue for tourists or anyone else so long as maps correspond.

However, I do hope that warning signs will be in both Irish and English. I can remember back in the early 90s my wife and I were driving around Donegal and we came across a sign warning us of an "accident black spot" entirely in Irish. It didn't even have the black circle, which I'd come to recognize as a warning. {Fortunately, my wife did a quick translation for me and convinced me to reduce my speed. Otherwise this blog might never have happened and what a tragic loss to you that would have been.}

Warning signs should be bilingual or based on standard visual symbols. There is nothing to gain in confusing tourists with signs that a driver might not have come across once in a week's worth of driving around Ireland.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Green invasion

Irish soccer fans in Israel for today's game were definitely being welcomed.

From yesterday's Ha'aretz:
Irish flags lining the streets, a huge party at Hayarkon Park and hundreds of kegs of extra beer in the pubs are ready for what municipality spokesman Kobby Barda described as the largest number of foreign football fans ever to travel to Israel for a match.

"We've never had anything like it in the history of Israeli football and we saw this as an opportunity to target a new market," said Barda, who is also spokesman of the Tel Aviv Tourism Association.
Extra beer in the pubs yesterday? Surely all those Irish fans will have shunned the pubs seeing as it was Good Friday. Okay, apparently not.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Another school shooting

Anytime one of these types of shootings occurs, you can guarantee that there'll be a lot of articles in the press here (and in Britain and in the US) about America's 'gun culture' and 'love of guns'. As Jon noted, the Irish Times's Conor O'Clery made that very point in his report on the shooting in Minnesota.

However, I think focusing on guns is wrong. I know it's a cliche to say "guns don't kill people, people do", but there's a lot of sense in that. What society should be asking is, "Why these kids do what they do?". Why are they so disenchanted and disaffected that they carry out what are clearly self-destructive killings?

I think the problems that these kids have that lead them down this path of killing and self-destruction are mirrored in Europe by the lure of jihad among Muslim boys/young men. That the killers in the US are not from an easily identifiable social group makes labeling them more difficult (and more difficult for law enforcement to identify and track), but in both the US and Europe those attracted to killing and self-destruction seem to experience a great sense of alienation from the cultural mainstream.

We may not be able to do anything about it, but we should at least know what the motivation is. We should try to pinpoint the source of it. Focusing on the means of killing and not the motivation is pointless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

What's up with Barry Bonds?

In one of the most bizarre press conferences I've ever seen, Barry Bonds hinted that he might be done for the year after undergoing two arthroscopic knee surgeries since the season ended in October.

Any normal player in this situation would be understandably down, but he would not say anything along the lines of these quotes, which Bonds uttered yesterday: "You guys wanted to hurt me bad enough, you finally got me". Or "I'm mentally drained. I'm tired of my kids crying". Or "You wanted me to jump off a bridge, I finally did".

Huh? Did the media step on Bonds's bad knee? Are his children that shocked at seeing their father on crutches? And, who exactly asked him to "jump off a bridge" and why did he do it?

No, this is clearly about more than a bad knee. There a few of possibilities here:
  • Bonds is so drained by the steroid et al allegations that he can't play baseball for the foreseeable future.
  • Bonds's system is so dirty that he needs a year off to clear out because he won't be able to get by the more stringent drugs testing regime (remember: we were never and will never be told the result of his ONE drugs test last year)
  • Bonds's assault on Henry Aaron's record of 755 career homers was such an embarrassment to Major League Baseball given recent testimony, etc. that the powers that be leaned heavily on him not to play this year.
  • Bonds may actually be in more trouble due to possible tax evasion, a possibility mentioned by the NY Times this morning.
Whatever the explanation, and I'm leaning towards a combination of the last two, this is a very sad moment for baseball. Barry Bonds has dominated the game as no one has since Babe Ruth left the game in the mid 1930s. He's possibly the greatest player ever, but now, given all we know, his legacy is tarnished, if not destroyed, and the interest fans would have had in watching him pursue Aaron has been replaced by a fervent desire to see him fail in this quest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Israeli soccer

Both Twenty Major (in his inimitable style - language is a bit earthy) and the Freedom Institute have taken the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Group to task for their recommendation that Irish people boycott the Israel vs Ireland game on Saturday.

Of course, they're right and the IPSG's campaign is a joke, but all is not sweetness and light in the world of Israeli soccer.

Jason Clarke

I caught part of a discussion (call-in) about the Schiavo case on Newstalk 106. One caller brought up a case I had heard about before, but had forgotten. Jason Clarke, son of Simply Painting's Frank Clarke, was in a "permanently vegetative state" for a number of years. His doctors had told his parents that there was no hope.

However, the parents didn't give up and they tried some alternative, Chinese remedy and Jason came out of his vegetative state. Apparently he's essentially the same today as he was before he was injured (I believe that's what happened). The caller's message was basically, "Where there's life, there's hope". {I couldn't find anything about this online.}

Michael Schiavo

I'm still thinking about the Schiavo case. I'm going to dismiss some of the more lurid rumors I've heard/read about Terri Schiavo's husband and cut him some slack. I don't think he's really a murderer or at least not in the same way that someone who bludgeons his wife to death is.

In this case, I think Schiavo is probably doing what he thinks is right. This is my problem with this whole thing. If our society didn't countenance such acts, someone like Michael Schiavo would probably never consider pulling his wife's feeding tube. The "Culture of Death" that the Pope has referred to has provided Schiavo with the cover he needs to consider such an option.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"She's one of us"

Tom DeLay, speaking last night during the debate in the debate on the Terri Schiavo bill. Simply and perfectly put.

And, yes, I know DeLay has issues surrounding him, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of putting his finger on the essence of why starving and dehydrating Terry Schiavo to death is so, so wrong.

Didn't pay your TV License?

Don't be embarrassed if you meet me.

Three times in a span of 40 minutes I heard ads on RTE radio about the dangers of not paying your television license. These ads carry both a soft and a hard message. The soft message is that anyone who is convicted for not paying their television license fee should be embarrassed and brings shame on themselves and all who are connected with them. The hard message is that failure to comply will result in a court appearance and a stiff fine.
Conviction for non-payment of a television licence (first offence) is a fine of €634.

If you are convicted a second time for not paying your television licence, you will be fined €1,269 and your television and signal equipment will be confiscated.
Well, I can't help you with the court appearance and the fine (or loss of equipment), but really, I won't bat an eye if you tell me you were busted for this offense. In fact, if you refused to pay the license fee because you're sick of funding RTE's political agenda, I'll give you a pat on the back.

{Full disclosure: On the 25th of February I angrily, but meekly, handed over €152 to pay for my license for another year.}

Landing in Shannon

An article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune about the travels of the Boston Red Sox's Gulfstream Jet will definitely be of interest to Irish anti-war protesters.

Grotesque decision

On Saturday morning I had written a post on Terri Schiavo. I referred to the decision to remove her feeding tube as more shameful for America than Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay or any execution in a state prison. It was a grotesque decision to order that this woman be denied food and water.

It seems so patently obvious to me that, although her life is not what it was, she is still alive and still a human being. Of course if she's denied food and water she'll die in a week or two. So would I. So would you. That's not dying with dignity. That's murder. Anyone who killed a dog by denying it food and water would be charged with a crime.

If people like Andrew Sullivan want to talk about death with dignity, then why don't they call for Mrs. Schiavo to be given a lethal injection? That would be more humane than death by dehydration. The reason they don't is because that would be murder, but so is denying nourishment to someone.
A conscious [cognitively disabled] person would feel it just as you or I would. They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucus membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining. They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water! Death by dehydration takes ten to fourteen days. It is an extremely agonizing death.
Thankfully Congress and the President have acted and there's some hope that Terry Schiavo will not be murdered by her husband and the Florida State Supreme Court.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Hey coach!

Today I did something I never really thought I'd do in Ireland. I was coaching kids in baseball. Thanks to a tip from Jon I found out about a kids' baseball league near me.

It was a real test because a lot of what needs to be taught are the kind of things that nobody ever taught me - how to throw, slide, etc. Most of the kids are pretty raw. I was stumped at first trying to come up with words to describe what I could see was wrong. Still, some of them can obviously play and kids are fast learners. I'm really looking forward to next Saturday morning.

I can't wait for infield drill. The kids only want to hit, but infield drill is where baseball is really learned. Knowing what to do with the ball when it's hit to you is an intellectual as well as a physical challenge. I always loved infield drill when I was a kid and I hope I can pass on that enthusiasm. I also want to try and convince them to call me coach. I'm looking forward to hearing some Irish kid yell, "Hey coach"!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Holy Day of Obligation

The whole business of Holy Days of Obligation has always struck me as a little odd (leaving aside the whole issue of "Obligation" in an age when so few Catholics feel obliged to go near a church at all, ever). Why is it that the Catholic Church allows Holy Days of Obligation to be determined by national boundaries?

Yesterday, March 17 was a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, but not, as far as I know, anywhere else on Earth. Certainly not in the US. I've been told that in Canada the only Holy Day of Obligation is Christmas Day. I'm hoping someone out there (and, yes, Mark, I'm thinking of you in particular) can shed some light on this matter for me.

The final frontier

Great article in this week's edition of the (London) Sunday Times Magazine about Burt Rutan. Rutan has designed a space ship that's already been to space. Now he's planning on making commercial space travel a reality. Money from Richard Branson is funding the development.

Fighting 69th

Very few members of the Fighting 69th were on hand to march in yesterday's parade in New York. Most of them are in Iraq.

You can read more about the Irish Brigade, which includes the Fighting 69th here. You can find more on the Fighting 69th here. {My grandfather was in the Fighting 69th during WWI. He had only recently arrived in the US when he enlisted.}

Thursday, March 17, 2005

U2 Story

I heard earlier in the week that TodayFM is broadcasting a special program on U2 today, called The U2 Story. I can't see anything about it on their web site, but it's supposed to start at 19:00 GMT (2pm EST) if you want to try and listen online.

Checkpoint chaos

The recent deaths of an Italian journalist and Bulgarian soldier at US checkpoints in Iraq are the subject of a long post by Dick. I have to admit I don't know much about how these checkpoints work, but from this layman's position it would seem that there should be a way to avoid civilian and friendly forces deaths at checkpoints.

Of course, as Dick notes, there's more than a little bit of politicking coming into the issue of who's responsible for these deaths in the cases of the two Europeans. If you're a politician under pressure for involving your troops in Iraq in the first place it can hardly help your case if you are seen to take a conciliatory line towards the US position when your people are killed by American forces.

For an alternative to the European perspective on the checkpoints, read this by Bartle Breese Bull, an unembedded freelance journalist who says he has "safely driven through scores of American roadblocks all over this country".

FDNY and the parade

It seems that the New York Fire Department will be missing some marchers today when the parade heads up 5th Avenue. Some firemen have decided not to march in protest at a recent order banning the wearing of the green berets during the parade.

I have some sympathy with Chief Peter Hayden, but this is one of those issues that surely could have been resolved with a bit of communication, reasonableness and give and take. Of course, reasonableness and give & take are rarely found in any dispute involving the Irish or Irish-Americans, particularly when the issue seems especially ridiculous.

NCTS

I haven't seen anything about this in the press, but I have the distinct impression that National Car Testing Service is under serious pressure, at least in Dublin. For example, you have to wait around 6-8 weeks to get an appointment. And, even then it was a mistake.

The other day my appointment set for Friday, March 25 at 8:50pm (date and time chosen by NCTS) was cancelled when someone from NCTS called me to let me know that their facility would actually be closed at that time. When the appointment date came in the mail I was a little surprised to think that they'd be working until that hour on Good Friday, but now it seems that they won't be.

I hate to say it, but I suspect that this government-estabilished monopoly might not be working out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

BLOGGER !!

All day I've been trying to get in here and now, that my day is over, Blogger is finally working - somewhat.

Hopefully, more tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Taipei, Kiev, Beirut- Shanghai?

I've been trying to figure out what the Chinese authorities hope to gain through their threats directed at Taiwan. It seems as clear as day to me that such a policy was always going to get the Taiwanese peoples' backs up. Taiwan's ruling party is encouraging the Taiwanese people to march in protest at China's new anti-secession law on March 26.

Today I'm wondering if the real target was not Taiwan, but Shanghai and the rest of China. Shanghai's not far from Taipei (about 400m, which is closer than Beijing) and there are a lot of commercial links between the two. Shanghai's also been experiencing significant economic growth over the past decade. There are a lot of fairly well off young Chinese in and around Shanghai.

I don't know the state of play regarding democracy movements in China, but I'm sure that some of these young middle class Chinese people are looking at what's happening in Kiev, Beirut and, especially, Taipei, and thinking to themselves, "Why not us?".

I doubt that the freedom necessary to build a successful entrepreneurial economy can be married to a political system that rewards loyalty over talent and suppression over freedom of expression, but that's what the Chinese government is attempting.

Kyoto's expensive

The Canadian government is beginning to realize how costly Kyoto compliance is. Initially the Canadian government had estimated that the full cost would be around CAN$5bn, but they've had to double the estimate. (Tip: Brainster)

What lesson does this have for Ireland? Well, Canada's budget problems were caused by a greater growth rate than had been anticipated. I have no idea what growth rate the Irish government anticipated when it signed up to Kyoto, but I doubt it was anything like the explosive performance we've experienced. If this costs the Irish government more than the €2bn that the nursing home charges are going to cost, can I expect front page headlines about scandals and lies?

"Freedom is like riding a bicycle"

So says Lebanon's Daily Star today. The Lebanese people have endured a long, dark period. First a brutal civil war that seemed to just go on and on followed by "peace" enforced by Syria. Now they're reclaiming their right to representative government. Freedom "is something you can never forget, no matter how long you've been away from it".

I don't know how this will end, but it certainly is great just looking at pictures of people marching in protest and demanding liberty.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Once in a lifetime opportunity

The job you've always dreamt of -- Vice President of the Dukes of Hazard Institute.

Responsibilities include:
  • watch The Dukes of Hazzard every weeknight on CMT;
  • know the words to The Dukes of Hazzard theme song, "Good Ol' Boys," written and performed on the series by the legendary Waylon Jennings;
  • serve as media expert on The Dukes of Hazzard for the CMT Dukes of Hazzard Institute: must be available for TV, radio and newspaper interviews to share passion for The Dukes of Hazzard on CMT;
  • write the CMT Dukes of Hazzard Institute online blog for cmt.com;
  • be passionate about The Dukes of Hazzard on CMT;
  • make appearances at special events such as Dukesfest 2005 in Bristol, Tenn., (June 4-5, 2005).
Too good to be true or what? I mean, blogging on the Dukes of Hazzard is one of those opportunities where you know writer's block will never be an issue. Thousands of potential topics present themselves daily.

No matter what you might think, you're Chinese

That's the essence of China's new law, which is nothing much more than a "do as we say or else . . . " whispered in the collective ear of the Taiwanese people.

As noted by Sam Crane in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer the growing confidence and self-assurance of the Taiwanese people is an embarrassment to the Chinese authorities and it's creating a greater sense of Taiwanese, rather than Chinese, identity. "The democratic political life shared by millions of Taiwanese is forging a common civic identity, and it cannot be dismissed as an invention of those who want to publicly declare independence."

Needless to say, the Taiwanese are not thrilled by this new law. 94% of respondents to a recent poll are opposed to Chinese use of "non-peaceful means" to resolve the sovereignty issue. Even more worrying for the Chinese, the poll showed that 84% "rejected the claim in the bill that Taiwan is part of China".

Will any of this have any effect on European plans to sell arms to China? I'd like to think so.

Muldoon's Rackett

I really enjoyed this article about Irish poet Paul Muldoon written by Muldoon's wife. I have to admit, I don't know anything about Muldoon's poetry (or anyone else's for that matter), but it seems that lately he's decided the poetry and teaching are not enough for him. Together with a couple of friends and acquaintances, Muldoon has formed a rock band, the Rackett.

Even the students at Princeton, where Muldoon teaches, have taken note.

St. Patrick's Day in America

One picture says it all.

green dog


There are a few other good ones from the Cincinnati St. Patrick's Day parade from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Airbus flawed?

I only fly occasionally and I don't love doing it. Therefore, articles such as this one from the Observer today don't make me any keener to get in an airplane. I don't know if this is just fear mongering or if there really is a possible flaw in the Airbus, but if pilots are nervous, then I'm nervous.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Choose Brendan, not Patrick

That's John Miller's advice to Irish-Americans. Miller argues that St. Brendan should be the patron saint of Irish-America because it's possible that Brendan was the first immigrant to reach N. America. The fact that Brendan's feast day is March 16 makes it feasible to have a two day Irish festival, if anyone wants to take Miller seriously. {I misread that. Brendan's feast day is May 16, which means the festival will have to be seriously extended. Thanks mdb.

I remember coming across an odd text written by someone whose expertise was in languages of the Iroquois nation. He believed that Irish people had been as far inland as Lake Ontario because the names Oswego and Oneida made no sense in the local languages. He also attributed the tales of great white men and the development of lacrosse to Irish men, some of whom obviously brought their hurleys with them. I thought it was weird then and I haven't changed my mind, but who knows? At least it's kind of fun.

Comic Relief

According to this morning's Scotsman, the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland has described Comic Relief as ""tacky, tawdry and tasteless". I can't say whether he's right or wrong because I don't know too much about Comic Relief's fund-raising sketches and shows other than the Celebrity Fame Academy that's been on t.v. every night for the past week or two.

This isn't really my kind of thing, but I do appreciate the fact that it's essentially a program that the whole family can watch. My kids love it and I haven't seen anything in it that's been too outrageous for children. A lot of bad singing, including some performances that should have come with health warnings, but not much more than that. I've even enjoyed the performances of Adrian Edmondson, who starred in the Young Ones way back when.

There are so few television shows that the whole family can (or would want to) watch. I think the Scottish Catholic Church should have been more selective in its criticism because Celebrity Fame Academy is the type of programming that should be encouraged.

Travers Stakes

The biggest story in this part of Ireland for the past few days has been the Travers Report, a government investigation into the practice of charging nursing home patients who should not have been charged. Or, at least, that's what I think this is all about.

Truth is, I haven't paid that much attention. I'm not sure why, but most of these scandals just don't grab me. I know they should. Maybe it's because the media is so overwhelming when they cover such a story. And, it's impossible to shake the feeling that all they want is a resignation from the government. All other considerations seem to pale. Who's head is going to roll is all that matters (and Lunch Time on Newstalk106 has been a gross offender in this regard).

The media is mostly focused on the fact that this mismanagement will 'cost' €2bn or whatever. Yet, my reaction is "it would have cost that much anyway". Unless I'm missing something (and that's very possible) the money that has to be paid is an unpaid debt, not new costs. I don't think there is much talk of huge damages arising here.

Maybe if the media questioned the wisdom of a government running nursing homes then I'd take more interest, but what we have here is a credit card bill that we lost and now has to be paid. It's annoying, but it's hardly earth-shattering.

One other aspect of this story is that I haven't found a single mention of it on any Irish blog. There must be some blog with a mention for this story, but I haven't found it yet. Maybe Irish bloggers in general are bored by these scandals?

UPDATE: At the risk of boring all of you to death, I now see a reason for Minister Martin to resign. He was responsible for expanding the medical card scheme to anyone over 70 (regardless of ability to pay) and, thus, greatly increased the state's liability when it came to nursing home charges. He should have resigned for that idiotic decision before all this, but now that this error has compounded his previous blunder he should fall on his sword.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Spring

Richard mentioned spring the other day. I really felt it today, although yesterday evening I had to get out and mow my lawn.

Every year since I moved here spring has caught me off guard. I'm not sure why that is. I suppose it could have to do with the fact that I was brought up in a place where spring doesn't really get going until mid-April. Around this time of year, in Saratoga County, NY you're hoping the snow won't last as long when it falls. Still after a dozen years you'd think I would have adapted. Maybe it has nothing to do with my up-bringing and it's just that the gloom lifts suddenly every year.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Turfed out

Another one of those things that as a kid I figured would be around forever (like the USSR) is thankfully dying away. This year, for the first time since 1966 there is no stadium with an artificial surface in the National League. Of course, all baseball fans pray that soon this monstrosity will be gone from baseball for good. Those three hold-outs in the American Leauge (all domed stadiums - another terrible development in baseball) have got to get rid of it and I don't care how 'natural looking' your turf is. (What? Are they in the grass club for men?)

I remember when I first traveled to London from NY I was talking to some guy in a pub and his biggest complaint about America was 'plastic grass'. He was afraid it was going to be installed in all of England's soccer stadiums. (I think one, Luton, had turf at the time.)

I couldn't have agreed more with the guy and told him that I hoped that one day American baseball teams would realize that Astroturf ruined the game as a spectale. I recounted my tale from 1979 when I watched the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Montreal Expos on a freak bounce of the ball off the seam in the outfield carpet. He was horrified. I hope today he finds the article linked above from the New York Times and he pauses and thinks to himself, "Well, that kid's prayers are being answered".

European birth rates

Interesting article by Pavel Kohout of the Center for Economics and Politics in Prague on declining birth rates in Europe and the role played social security systems in driving the birth rates lower.

I'm not as gloomy regarding the potential integration of Muslims into European society as Mr. Kohout, but I do believe that some of the more "socially progressive" aspects of European life may be curtailed. European Muslims are not going to lead Europe back to the middle ages.

However, the potential for ethnic strife is great if Muslims are treated as pariahs. This potential is even greater in E. Europe and Russia where there's less of a commitment to liberty and greater uncertainty about ethnic and political identity.

Fifty years from now Europe will be more Islamic, there's no doubt about that. However, I see no reason to think it will be less democratic. Muslim democrats may vote for various changes to the law, but I don't think there'll be any real attempt to impose Sharia law or anything even vaguely like that.

{Article found through the Corner.}

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Seachtain na Gaeilge 2005

To be honest, I don't know a lot of Irish (okay, really, well, none - but this doesn't seem to figure for Twenty Major). My total lack of comprehension of anything other than the very, very basics is often a source of amusement for my children, who quickly learn that Daddy 'knows nothing' when it comes to Irish (my lack of knowledge about all other non-baseball topics is only gradually revealed to them).

Having given that disclaimer, I want to ask the following question: what does the word 'seachtain' mean? I thought it meant 'week', which is 7 days. If yes, how is it Seachtain na Gaeilge 2005 seems to last from March 5-March 17? Or am I just misreading this page?

Nobel Peace Prize

How about Paul Wolfowitz? Here's David Brooks:
It's not necessary to absolve Wolfowitz of all sin or to neglect the postwar screw-ups in Iraq. Historians will figure out who was responsible for what, and Wolfowitz will probably come in for his share of the blame. But with political earthquakes now shaking the Arab world, it's time to step back and observe that over the course of his long career - in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Central and Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East - Wolfowitz has always been an ardent champion of freedom. And he has usually played a useful supporting role in making sure that pragmatic, democracy-promoting policies were put in place.

. . . Wolfowitz doesn't talk like those foreign policy blowhards who think the world is run by chessmasters sitting around at summits. He talks about national poets, national cultures and the power of people to bring sweeping change. His faith in people probably led to some of the mistakes in Iraq.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. How's this?

Oid loike to nominate da wee little man with da funny name for da Nobel Peace Proize.

Hosting outside Ireland

While I'm on technical issues, a few months ago Adrian Weckler commented that Irish companies should host their web sites outside Ireland.

For the most part I agree with Weckler, but choosing a hosting company is not easy. There are seemingly thousands from which to choose and it's not easy to know which ones are the good ones.

Over the past 8 years I have changed web hosts twice. First time was when I moved my site out of Ireland to a US-based host and this past January I changed to a different US-based host.

One factor that is crucial to consider is support and whether your site's support will be available during your business hours. If you're going to host your site in the US, 24/7 support is required just to be sure that your Monday morning isn't ignored because it's still Sunday night in San Jose (or wherever).

Weckler used Yahoo's hosting package as an example of what can be found in the US, but Yahoo was very expensive compared with most of the other hosting companies I investigated. Have a good look around, but before you begin your investigation be certain as to what you need in terms of space, scripting, databases, etc.

Skype

The Computers in Business Editor from the Sunday Business Post praises Voice over IP, and Skype in particular in this month's issue.

I've been using Skype for a few months now and I'm not convinced it's a legitimate substitute for making phone calls the old fashioned way (picking up the phone and dialing), but it's great if you use it to talk with friends and family. I don't know if the problem is what passes for broadband in Ireland (512Kb/s maximum speeds with 48:1 contention ratios) or if there are other technical factors at play, but I often find the signal breaks up when I'm using Skype. This is not ideal in a normal business context, but I think it would probably be acceptable for internal calls.

Using Skype to call home is great, however. No charge as long as both parties are using the PC and only 1.7c per minute if I use Skype to call a telephone, whether that phone is in W. Europe, N. America or Australia.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Irish Blog?

A recent article in the Irish Times started a small debate among Irish bloggers about what is a blog and what topics should an Irish blog include? (Read more here and here.)

Well, all these questions are essentially put to rest by Twenty Major today. Having accepted the wisdom of his criteria for an 'Irish blog', I do have one small, niggling question: do you have to fulfill all seven or will one do? I think I've got 1 or 2 covered (got all U2's albums and I do prefer Guinness to "insipid European or American" lagers).

I'm sure posting on baseball (which, in case you're not aware, opens on April 3 - YEE HAW) disqualifies the Irish Eagle as an Irish blog. To be sure, to be sure.

UPDATE: Twenty Major has indicated that a blog must meet three of the criteria to qualify as Irish. In order to make the cut, I've decided to attempt to meet number 2 in the list:
The blog can be considered Irish if it's immeasurably improved by reading aloud in the voice of Tom Cruise trying to do an Irish accent in Far and Away.
I think I can manage that. I mean, Tom was born in Syracuse, which is only a short distance from my hometown. I should be able to match his voice here, right?

Intel welfare

The decision by the European Commission last week to shoot down the Irish government's €170m welfare grant aid package for Intel is good news for the Irish taxpayer. I can see no good reason for the state to be funding a company's development like that, even a company as strong and as good for Ireland as Intel has been.

Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin claimed that without such aid this project "would be located in Israel or Asia". What happened to all that stuff about our "well educated workforce" that I hear so, so, so often? Does this mean it is still (and always was) about grant aid and tax breaks?

I believe that there is more to Intel's future in Ireland than tax breaks and grant aid, but if there isn't then we're not doing something right if we don't have the skills and experience necessary for an Irish company to rise up and challenge Intel.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Rusnack

In case you're wondering how John Rusnack is faring in prison after costing AIB $700m, the Baltimore Sun has an interview with him in today's paper.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Public television

George Will's column in yesterday's Albany Times Union makes the case for discontinuing publicly funded television. Whatever favorable arguments might have existed in the US of the 1960s they are completely gone now when you have up to 500 channels available through cable or satellite. Not only is this true for the US, but it's also true for Ireland and Britain.

The EU's common sense ruling that RTE is in breech of competition rules will, with a lot of luck, be the beginning of the end of tax payer funded t.v. in Ireland. Why should anyone have to pay a tax in order to watch t.v.? The same goes for Britain and the BBC.

The proliferation of new stations and new methods of distribution make it absurd that each television-owning household should pay €152 per year (in Ireland) or £121 in Britain. The British government is even considering a tax on PC's in order to try and make the square peg license fit the round hole of technology convergence. This is asinine and counter-productive for any country that wants to be a leader in the knowledge economy.

(Ice) Hockey in Ireland

Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings says he'd like to try and build a proper national team for Ireland out of North American players of Irish descent. I remember reading similar quotes from Owen Nolan a few years ago. I even have half a notion I mentioned it here, but now I can't find it.

I'm sure it could be done and the team wouldn't be half bad. I can't imagine too many people here would take to such a team, but maybe in and around Belfast where hockey has a higher profile the team would generate some interest.

Ikea

Since I'm on the topic of retail, I think I now understand why the Irish government wanted Ikea in Ireland, in this jurisdiction and why they wanted it along the motorway in north Dublin. It will (obviously) be convenient for the Dublin consumers, but also reasonably convenient for consumers from N. Ireland, who are already traveling to Glasgow in large numbers in order to shop at Ikea.
The Swedish company'’s megastore at Braehead, on the outskirts of the city, has become Glasgow’'s biggest new tourism stream, said VisitScotland, with up to 48,000 visitors a year.

The Northern Irish demand for furnishings is so big that they are being offered hotel-ferry package deals.

On an average Saturday, at least 600 IKEA-bound shoppers will be aboard the first Stena ferry out of Belfast to begin an 18-hour marathon.

At Braehead, they have four and a half hours’ shopping time - and they make the most of it.
If people are willing to put up with that hassle, I presume even more of them will be willing to put in a couple of hours in the car in order to get to the new Ikea store in Ballymun when it opens.

I've never been to Ikea. I used to drive by it regularly (near Newark Airport along the Turnpike), but I had no interest then and I still don't get it. Maybe I have to see it first?

Dundrum shopping center

Wow! I can't wait to see it. It's been in all the papers, on the radio and I think I even caught something on the t.v. about this. It truly is a wondrous event

Am I going a little over the top in my enthusiasm about the new Dundrum Town Centre? Yes? Oh, okay, but I've only gone a little beyond what I've been reading and, especially, hearing on the radio about this new mall.

I hope I never see this place, but I'm sure I will. At €2 per hour to park (so I heard on the radio), I won't be a frequent visitor.

Can anyone explain these excessive fees to me? Do high parking fees mean that the stores in the center are paying lower rents? Do high parking fees mean lower costs to the consumer in each store? Is this how it works? I really can't understand why I have to pay so much just to park the car in a shopping center's parking lot.

Is it too politically incorrect to say, "Gimme Wal-Mart any day".

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Not another plastic alien

I'm sure I'm not the first and I know I won't be the last to mention this on a blog. Ireland's State Pathologist has revealed that once a month (on average) she is contacted by a member of the Gardai who believes he/she has just discovered a human fetus in the garbage.

Dr Cassidy said her mortuary technician knows on sight that it’s a toy. He has a wicked sense of humour, she said, and in front of the open-mouthed gardaĆ­ will throw the doll against the wall, telling them that’'s how he checks it’s not a foetus.
Look at this picture.


I can see how they make the mistake, but it's still pretty funny. And, how do the Guards react when she tells them that their fetus is a plastic alien? "They bounce".

The fact that doctors frequently make the same mistake is worrying, however.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I drilled the holes in the plates

Yes, I got that job done. I also had to drill a couple of holes in the car too, if you can believe that.

Unfortunately, just after I finished all that the car broke down. This happens too regularly and it all seems to be related to some mysterious electrical fault that no one (including two different mechanics or me) can find. That's it for me with this car. No need for the test now.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Prudes!

I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to prudishness. I don't know anybody who's as up-tight or as easily embarrassed as I am.

The proliferation of pornography in Ireland over the past few years makes me wistful for the past when Playboy was banned, never mind the harder core offerings. I know there's not going to be any reversal of this trend, but I wish when the ban was (rightfully) lifted that it hadn't led to such a deluge.

Today our taxpayer funded television stations show things that none of the main networks in the US would dare show. The Sunday papers are full of photographs of topless women and articles that often seem to have their origins in the scribblings on the walls of a school's boys' restroom.

All of this is to set up my 'poke' at those who see themselves as prudier than thou (or even me!). According to the Irish Examiner, the Equality Authority, joined by a number of women's groups, is going to lead the Freedom from Pornography Campaign, which is "aimed at increasing awareness of the harm that pornography does to society and to challenge its widespread availability".

In the Examiner's article Rachel Mullins of Women's Aid is quoted as saying that pornography has become part of the "arsenal of domestic violence. It's become another tactic to use in the emotional and physical abuse of women".

Just because something can be used in the "arsenal of domestic violence" doesn't mean that it's time to campaign against it.

If a man holds up a picture of a cake from a food magazine in order to ridicule his wife's culinary skills, does that mean that these groups are going to start a campaign for Freedom from Gourmet Media? Surely a woman can be just as easily ridiculed for her bad cakes as her looks? What if a man compares his wife's cooking/housekeeping/whatever to his mother's? Are we going to campaign against mothers-in-law? (Don't answer that.)

These women's groups trivialize the sufferings of those who are genuine victims when they employ the language of violence and victims in this type of campaign.

As for the Equality Authority - UGH.

The Equality Authority is one of the greatest tragedies of our activist government. The Equality Authority is clearly over-staffed and over-resourced as they continually expand their remit by inventing more and more causes they can espouse, like this one. The sooner this monstrosity is brought low the better.

Baby's it's cold down there

You think it's cold here? Well compared with the current weather in hell it's positively steaming outside. Yes, that's right. The temperature in hell has taken a serious nose dive. In fact, hell hath frozen over.

Today, March 1 (had to check twice to make sure it wasn't April 1) the NY Times (yes, that very same NY Times) has praised the Bush Administration.

The lead editorial in today's paper deals with the changes sweeping the Middle East. First, Iraq, then the elections in Saudi, then the declaration by Hosni Mubarak that there should be a proper democratic presidential election in Egypt and now, in the wake of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the fall of the Syrian-backed government in Lebanon.

. . . this has so far been a year of heartening surprises - each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance. And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power.
The Berlin Wall has fallen and the cold war is finally over. It won't be long now before Bush voters are crawling all over one another in an attempt to unlock the cabinet drawers containing the minutes for every editorial board meeting for the past five  ten  fifteen  twenty  twenty-five  forty plus years.